Two things have been made apparent at recent self-storage conferences: There is fantastic opportunity for development of the self-storage industry in Europe; and the guys in Europe are lucky they have a ready-made product available from their buddies across the pond.
Well, let's just acknowledge and agree with the first item and move on to No. 2. There is no doubt that after more than 25 years experience, the U.S. self-storage industry is a very well developed product and part of the fabric of life for the average American. Although it has not yet achieved a significant level of recognition in Europe, self-storage has a big advantage in being able to cast its eye to the established U.S. and Australasian businesses to learn from their mistakes and cherry-pick the best ideas.
This has provided knowledge for European operators about how to build and run a self-storage business. Operators are able to see first-hand the importance of user-friendly and efficient operation. Part of this lesson includes client perception of and the functionality of security systems.
Importing Technology From Established Markets
So do we have a ready-made product that can be imported from the United States? The answer is no. What we do have are various elements of a complete product that can be mixed and matched, but still need some European development to account for different cultures and languages. As far as access control and security goes, the technology is there, but it needs some adjustments to be used in Europe.
Access-control products that have been specially designed for the self-storage industry are imported from the United States, but the support of a European partner is essential for specifications, project coordination and technical support/service. This also applies to management software, except in this case, a couple of indigenous products have been developed. Dutch self-storage users do prefer to see Welkom, toegang is toegestaan on an entry keypad, and a comma in place of a full stop makes a major difference in accounting.
Going to Market
The U.K. self-storage industry is on its way toward 350 facilities and is, therefore, one or two steps ahead of the emerging markets led by France and Holland. Individual European markets comprise a healthy mix of corporate entities and new startups. There is also a new breed of pan European enterprises led by City Self-Storage.
It is very pleasing to observe the friendliness and camaraderie among European self-storage operators, with only a little bit of competitive edge creeping in as certain geographical areas become more populated with stores. Competition focuses a business and generates thoughts toward differentiation and added value for self-storage users. Self-storage operators are thinking more toward the future, and some are playing catch-up on facility operation. Differentiation and marketing can include branding, positioning, pricing, site-operation, etc.
One thread running through all these considerations is access control and security. One comment I heard recently was that these features, in normal circumstances, are a "grudge buy," falling into the same category as insurance; but this is not the case in self-storage. Access control and security systems provide added value to a facility--not just quickly recoverable costs, but an investment for the future. On what scale is this investment? The total investment in a facility in the United Kingdom, for instance, may be between £2 million and £4 million. Access control and security, including individual door alarms, may cost £15,000 to £50,000. This is the price for features that are paramount in the interface with a client and enhanced by customer-friendly service.
There is a trend in the European self- storage industry to allow 24-hour access. A self storage user wants to come and go as he pleases, whenever he pleases, and feel his property is well-protected. The question of 24-hour access may be considered in terms of fact or perception. Would a self-storage client like such access to his personal property? In most cases, the answer would be yes. Would he turn up, having paid for the privilege? Who knows? It's a bit like my gym membership!
Planning for Installation
When do we need to think about access-control and security systems in the planning of a new facility? These systems are usually the last items to be installed, so maybe it should be sometime during construction. But people flow is only one important aspect of an efficient and user-friendly facility and needs to be planned in the early design stage. Then there are the optional extras to consider: tape or digital CCTV recording, lighting, lift controls, telephone interface, music/intercom, etc.
Those people involved in the design, supply and construction of self-storage can make a difference. Once they decide how a facility should operate, it's up to other people to make it a success. Everyone contributes, from the site-manager to the technical-support team. Although the European self-storage industry will still keep a close watch on the development of access-control and security systems developed in the United States, expect to see it develop its own systems to accommodate the requirements of each region and country.
Barry Rimmer is general manager of PTI Europe Ltd., based in Middlesex, England. The company is the exclusive distributor of PTI equipment and software for access-control systems designed for the self-storage industry. Mr. Rimmer has a degree in architecture, with a background in engineering, and has spent many years traveling as an international sales and marketing executive. For more information, call +44 2088 926 317; visit www.ptieurope.com.